What is a Rabbi?

Question 10

The word Rabbi is very interesting. It means ‘my teacher’. Now, there’ve been all sorts of leaders in the world: military leaders, political leaders, people who wielded power. There’ve been very rich people who wielded wealth. Judaism said, forget about power, that’s not the Jewish thing. Forget about wealth, that’s only a means to an end. What really matters in this world is human dignity. How do you reach human dignity? And to this, the Torah gives a radical answer. You achieve human dignity by allowing every person to fulfil their potential. How do you do that? By making sure that everyone has a good education. So Jews tried the most unusual experiment, inequality over undertaking.

To repeat, there’ve been many experiments to create an equal society based on equality of power. The result usually is anarchy. There’ve been others that saw themselves in terms of equality of wealth, communism, socialism, but they always collapsed.

Judaism looks at equality in terms of equal access to education. Now, in such a vision of the world, the real heroes are the teachers. That’s why when we wanted to give Moses the highest accolade, we didn’t call him Moses the Lawgiver, or Moses the Liberator, or Moses the Supreme Prophet. We called him Moshe Rabbeinu; Moses, our Teacher.

In Judaism, to be a teacher is the highest honour. And that’s why the best word we have is Rabbi, meaning: my teacher.

In partnership with TorahCafe (www.torahcafe.com), Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks recorded a series of short videos in May 2013, in answer to some of the most frequently asked questions of Judaism (and faith in general).